Welcome back baseball fans!! While many hardball enthusiasts are chomping at the bit for the season to get underway, the league and players union may have other ideas. That’s another topic for another time however, and whether or not the season starts on time, fantasy drafts are already underway, so now is the time to start planning for your 2022 draft!
In this article, I’ll be covering second-year players who are in the best position to see a dramatic jump in fantasy value. Only players that are actually in their second season in the Major Leagues will be included (for the most part). Players who were considered rookies by MLB standards last year, but also played on the big league club in 2020, will not be. Therefore, guys like Ke’Bryan Hayes and Dylan Carlson will not be included on this list.
Also, players like Alek Manoah or Trevor Rogers won’t be included—they were already so dominant, there isn’t much room for improvement. Again, we’re looking for players who could dramatically improve their stock.
Now before we start naming players, I have to point out the most obvious choice for this list in Wander Franco. As great as he was in 2021, everyone expects Franco to be one of the best players in all of baseball for this and many years to come, so there’s no need to sing his praises again. If Franco is still available in the fourth round, take him and don’t look back.
Without further ado, here are 10 players who are entering their sophomore season and should dramatically jump in fantasy value and production.
The highly scrutinized Kelenic garnered a lot of attention leading up to drafts last year but failed to reach many’s expectations. After a dismal start to his Major League career, Kelenic could be found floating on the waiver wire in many leagues. Those who were willing to hold onto him, however, were rewarded with a solid final month (month and a half really) of the season.
In September, the first player selected out of high school in the 2018 draft put up exemplary numbers. Kelenic clubbed seven home runs, six doubles, and a triple for the month. He also stole three bases and scored 19 runs while driving in an impressive 20 RBIs. The Mariners’ lineup is stacked with young talent this year, and Kelenic should be a big part of their success. Look for him to build on last year’s late accomplishments and produce like the budding star he is. Draft him after round 10.
Already being drafted as high as the sixth or seventh catcher off the board in re-draft leagues, Ruiz is hardly flying under the radar. But there’s no denying his ceiling as one of the best up-and-coming catchers around the league. In a short two months on the Nationals’ roster, Ruiz put together a .284/.348/.395 stat line. He only hit two homers over 89 plate appearances, but his 21 home runs in less than 300 at-bats in Triple-A tells us that the power numbers are coming. The stat that jumps out the most is that he only struck out a ridiculous four times over those 89 plate appearances! For someone to get the call at barely 22 years old and show such a keen batting eye, while still hitting the ball with authority, is quite remarkable.
He should be in line to catch the majority of games for the Nat’s this year and don’t be surprised to see him moving up the batting order as the year wears on. Look for Ruiz no later than round 14 in 12 team mixed leagues and much earlier in leagues that punish strikeouts.
Gilbert fizzled down the stretch, but he clearly showed signs of future dominance throughout his rookie campaign. The 6’6″ righty produced a fantastic 19.9 K-BB%, a 1.17 WHIP, and a 3.73 FIP over his first 119.1 big league innings. He hung a few too many sliders in the second half, but with a little correction, the sky is the limit for the Mariners’ future ace. He shows great control of his upper 90’s fastball and strikes out hitters with two other plus offerings (besides the slider). After rarely being selected in last year’s draft, this season Gilbert is a must in the middle rounds.
McClanahan was an ace of sorts for the Rays last year and should easily surpass his innings’ total from last year. Blessed with a 100 mph fastball, the prized lefty shows extreme polish for being just 24 years old. He keeps free passes to a minimum while also limiting the long ball. Even more enticing for fantasy managers was his exceptional 27.3 K percentage, placing him in the top 20 of all starting pitchers. McClanahan’s impressive rookie campaign (3.43 ERA, 3.31 FIP, and even better 3.23 xFIP) is likely only scratching the surface. He is Tampa’s best pitcher and that is saying something. Don’t be afraid to reach for him in the eighth round, as he is likely to improve upon his already impressive numbers.
Gray had a few bad starts last season, but don’t hold it against him. The young righty went through a string of four bad games from the end of August through the middle of September where home runs and walks allowed were in abundance, but he bounced back nicely to close out the year. In his final three starts, Gray surrendered only one home run and six walks while pitching in Colorado and against Boston and Miami. Gray’s pitch arsenal and makeup have made him a top 100 prospect since he was drafted and hasn’t disappointed at any stop throughout his Minor League career.
Many will take a pass on Gray simply judging by his ugly ERA and all the homers he gave up. But I’m willing to bet, the 24-year-old phenom puts up above-average numbers during his sophomore season.
Patino is also a highly touted young arm that saw some struggles in 2021. Combining a high 90’s fastball with a hard-breaking slider and a decent curveball and changeup, Patino could be the player who makes the biggest jump on this list. He was inconsistent, to say the least, but if there’s one thing the Rays do well, it’s developing young pitching. I’m willing to gamble on the Rays’ young righty as well, as the upside is tremendous. He was, after all, only 21 last year and nearly struck out a batter per inning. Target him at the end of drafts. (Also, I know he is technically in his third season, but his one start and a few relief appearances with San Diego were barely a cup of coffee.)
Stephenson had an excellent rookie campaign and with Tucker Barnhart out of the picture, Stephenson should take on a more prominent role behind the dish. If the NL DH comes to fruition as well, there’s a good chance Stephenson sees nearly 145 games (if not more) and could wind up as a top-five catcher. He also played 23 games at first base last season.
The Reds’ everyday catcher should hit for a high average while batting near the middle of the lineup. He likely won’t hit more than 15 home runs, but will contribute handily in both run-scoring categories. Stephenson also has a great eye and takes his free passes. Ideally, you draft a player who steadily produces and will play nearly every day to fill your catcher spot, and Stephenson checks all the boxes. I like him after the top five, mixed in with Keibert Ruiz and Wilson Contreras.
Okay, we’re cheating a bit with this one because he did have 25 at-bats in 2020, but Sanchez simply holds too much upside to leave off this list. He did produce some respectable numbers last year, but also dealt with injuries and a lengthy trip to the COVID list. He also struck out at an alarming rate, which was somewhat surprising considering he’d been under a 20 percent K-rate in Triple-A after joining the Marlins in 2019.
That said, the ball flies off his bat and he should be a hefty contributor in the middle of the revamped Miami lineup. He may sit occasionally against some of the more crafty lefties, but considering he actually hit southpaws a bit better last year and the DH is likely coming to the National League, look for Sanchez to garner around 500 at-bats. He’s a strong candidate to reach the high 20’s in home runs, while possibly surpassing 30 with a decent amount of RBIs. His average won’t hurt you either unlike many of the other sluggers out there.
Another reason I’m buying Sanchez this year is that the three offerings he handled the best were fastballs, sliders, and changeups. The last time I checked, these were by far the most thrown pitches in the game and if Sanchez can learn to lay off the occasional curveball, he could further improve upon his batting average, pushing it up into the .270 range. He did, after all, bat .348 last year before being called up.
Sanchez also hits mammoth home runs. His average home run distance was 417 feet, good for 10th best in the league. His max exit velo was equally impressive at 113.9 MPH, which placed him in the top 10 percent of the league. He reminds me a bit of Houston’s Yordan Alvarez, albeit less consistent but slightly more athletic. I’m drafting Sanchez as early as round 18 depending on my team’s need for power.
While we’re on the topic of Sanchez in Miami, I can’t leave out his uber-talented teammate with the same last name. Players returning from injury are notoriously forgotten in fantasy drafts allowing their stock to slip down the ranks. Of course, a young pitcher returning from a season-long shoulder injury will almost always be held back and assigned a strict innings limit. He’ll also likely be brought along slowly in the Minors, but make no mistake, a June call-up is well within reason and a talent like Sixto Sanchez could go a long way to helping your team reach gold. You can wait on him because of the injury, but don’t let him go undrafted.
And for those in the deepest of leagues, I would take a shot at Jose Barrero (formally known as Jose Garcia). He possesses the rare power-speed combo that managers drool over and it’s only a matter of time until he’s receiving regular at-bats within the Reds’ lineup. He clubbed 19 home runs and stole 16 bases in 95 upper Minor League games last year and batted over .300 at both stops. If he were to have an impressive Spring and earn a spot on the opening day roster, the toolsy 23 year old could put up impressive numbers, but he’ll have to cut his strikeouts to do so. It’s definitely a situation worth monitoring in Cincinnati.
Whether you’re new to fantasy baseball or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Baseball 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with our Sabermetrics Glossary or head to a more advanced strategy – like How to Make Custom Fantasy Baseball Rankings with Microsoft Excel – to learn more.
Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.